GPT28P - Bajo Río Palena
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- GPT28P / Villa Melimoyu to Puerto Cisnes
(Part of Option 1: Seno Gala, Canal Jacaf, Canal Puyuhuapi) / 2019-Nov-20 / 3 days / Meylin Ubilla & Jan Dudeck
3 or 4 years ago - after packrafting the Rio Palena - we took the ferry from Raul Marin Balmaceda to Puerto Cisnes that passes 170 km along the Patagonian fjords. It was a calm sunny day, I spend most of the ferry ride on the deck and I was obviously thinking if these fjords can be packrafted.
Now we did it except the first 33 km that traverse the exposed Golfo de Corcovado (see my last post to GPT28P).
We did the traverse with different packrafting gear than we used 4 years ago. We now have a two-seater MRS Barracuda with an integrated spreydeck and two kayak paddles. We waited twice a day for a suitable weather window and enjoyed this demanding but rewarding packrafting route at the fullest.
Attempting any traverse of significant length with an open packraft in the Patagonian fjords is not a sign of bravery but stupidity. Wind and waves can suddenly increase, fill the packraft with water and without any exit location nearby you are helplessly exposed to the currents with little control of where you are going. Only few selected fjord routes with plenty of beaches and exit locations can be safely packrafted with on open packraft (i.e. GPT22 or GPT76).
The general strategy in these fjords is: “Wait, run and hide!”. 1. Wait near the start while following the weather forecast closely with everything ready to go (gear, food). 2. If a suitable weather window opens, leave early and “run“ with a minimum of breaks and leisure stops until either the wind or the evening stops you. 3. Hide in a sheltered location high enough the high-tide water line. Be prepared with sufficient food to possibly stay for days in your hiding location.
Dolphins, sea-lions and penguins room the se fjords.
At the exit of Seno Gala is the small fishing settlement Isla Gala but predominant wind makes it often difficult to access this tiny village. At the eastern shore of Canal Puyuhuapi are various settlements with easy access from the sea and perfect camp sites. Within Canal Jacaf are no further settlements but a number of permanently maned salmon farms. The entire route is frequently used by boats with the majority of the traffic created by the salmon farms and fishing but asking to be evacuated by one of these boats should be a last resort and not part of the travel plan.
We we’re fortunate and enjoyed 3 exceptional calm days with moderate wind and waves (about 1 m) in only two shorter open sections. Wind in these channels can be firce making navigating by packraft in these waters impossible.
Currents and tidal flows:
According to sea maps the water speed in the canal Jacaf can reach 5 kn (9 km/h) but we experienced this part rather static. But we struggled after leaving canal Jacaf in the canal Puyuhuapi going southbound. During 6 hours with a falling tide we paddled against a consistent northbound flow of around 1 to 1.5 kn (1.5 to 2.5 km/h). My impression was that this is not a reversing tidal flow but a general current.
The generally steep cost results in only few suitable landing beaches. And the forrest reaches right down to the high-tide line. The track files contain several decent beaches where camping seams more comfortable if hiding in the trees behind the open beach.
- GPT28P / Packrafting from Santo Domingo to Villa Melimoyu (Part of Option 1) / 2019-Nov-18 / 1 day / Southbound / Meylin Ubilla & Jan Dudeck
We now verified the suggested packrafting route from Santo Domingo to Villa Melimoyu that I first considered packrafting when taking this route by ferry after floating down Rio Palena.
This is an very attractive but exposed fjord route. Dolphins, sea lions, penguins and lots of birds habitat this area.
Waiting for suitable weather (especially calm wind) and a close eye on the weather forecast is essential.
For this traverse a packraft with a spreydeck and should not be attempted with an classic open packraft. A sail is very beneficial and makes this traverse safer as you can reach a sheltered location faster in case of increasing wind.
The Isla Refugio provides a reasonable good wind protection on a good part of this route but the last 6 km are rather open and wind and waves can make this stretch a nightmare.
The about one dozen islands just before the the final open stretch provide some emergency shelter and you can pick your private island to sit out unsuitable weather before reaching Villa Melimoyu. But don't expect sandy beaches and palme trees on these island. To make an emergency shelter you need to carry sufficient sweat water, a machete to open a small spot and probably a hammock to stay above the high tide water level.
The tiny settlements on both ends of this route are worthwhile visiting especially when able to converse with the settlers. Both locations are suitable to sit out days of unsuitable weather.
Southbound seams the preferable direction due to typical wind direction and tidal flows according to locals. It worked perfectly for us. Only in case of less frequent “viento sur” a northbound traverse becomes feasible.
The Naviera Austral ferry route “Ruta Cordillera” connects twice per week southbound (and twice per week nothbound) Raul Marin Balmaceda with Santo Domingo and continues to from Santo Domingo to Villa Melimoyu, Isla Gala, Puerto Cisnes and Puerto Chacabuco. The ferry requires about 1:30 h for the short ride from Raul Marin Balmaceda to Santo Domingo.
Packrafting the 20 km from Rio Palena (next to Raul Marin Balmaceda) to Santo Domingo might be feasible on a perfect day if starting with the first light in the morning but this water route is a serious packrafting challenge as this water route traverse the unprotected Golfo de Corcovado. There are probably not more than a dozen such perfect days per season so either be very patient or take the next ferry. One of the bays along this unprotected route is named “Bahia Mala” (Bad Bay) and this seams no randomly chosen name. But when entering the “Canal Refugio“ (another well descriptive name) the wind and waves get suddenly a lot calmer. At the mouth of this more sheltered channel is the tiny settlement Santo Domingo that was founded some decades ago. Arriving here by ferry seams the rational choice if not willing to wait days or weeks for a suitable weather window.
- GPT28P / Exploration Fjord Pitipalena (Part of Option 2) / 2019-11-14 / 3 days / Meylin Ubilla & Jan Dudeck
We packrafted in the last 3 days the Fjord Pitipalena from Raul Marin Balmaceda (Puerto Marin or RMB) to the northern terminus of Brazo Pillan (Point B of attached map) and returned in two days back to Puerto Marin.
In the fjord sightings of penguins, sea lions and dolphins are frequent.
Tidal flows can reach in some parts 4 km/h but typically do not exceed 1 km/h.
As in all open waters wind and waves can be fierce but calm days are not uncommon due to the protection of the surrounding mountains. Be prepared to sit out days of bad weather in one of the few sheltered areas on the coast. We spend one night hanging in the trees with torrential rain and heavy gusty wind. On the last km back we were fighting heavy gusts of wind to return back to the village.
Meeting Rodrigo Parra was one highlight of this tour. He is the last settlers outside of Puerto Marin in this fjord. Location see image.
Decades ago this fjord was well populated with hundreds of settlers living at various shores of this fjord to harvest algae and some settlers attempted to grow cattle. All but one settler retreated and nature wiped out virtually all traces of these settlements.
We also investigated the area between the northern terminus of Brazo Pillan and Rio TicToc. Decades ago an well established trail crossed this 1.3 km land connection but this trail disappeared in most parts and is overgrown by dense but not impassable forest. I covered about 450 m in 1.5 hours noticing parts of an old trail or simply the machete battle field of packrafters or kayakers in this dense forest. This route to Rio TicToc is still occasionally taken by highly experienced sea kajakers or packrafters to access Parque Corcovado.
The exploration route from Rio TioTic to Chaiten follows the very exposed coast of the Golfo Corcovado. To cover the approximately 80 km from the mouth of Rio TicToc to Chaiten it needs plenty of sea-traveling experience, lots of patience and plenty of food to spend most of the time waiting for the occasional good-weather-window. I’m not sure if I better remove this route from the GPT network as a packraft traverse seams currently pretty fooled to me. I at least, have currently no desire to explore this route in the next years.
Satellite Image Map
Elevation Profile of Regular Packrafting Route
Section Planning Status
Recommended Travel Period
Benefits of Hiking and Packrafting
Recommended Travel Direction
Section Length and Travel Duration
Suitable Section Combinations
Services: ATM and Money Exchange
Accommodation: Hostals and Hotels
Transport: Ground Transport
Transport: Shipping Services
Resupply on the Trail
Location, Names, Available Items and Services
Access to Route and Return
Access to Start
Return from Finish
Permits, Entry Fees and Right-of-Way Issues
Regular Hiking Route
Regular Packrafting Route
- Route description by Kara Davis after Season 2017/18:
Río Palena continues to steadily grow as it makes its way towards the ocean. This section has noticeably fewer rapids, and mostly consists of calm, slow moving water. Camping is abundant and easy to find. There are many rocky beaches that lead to flat grassy or sandy land. Within 20 km or so from the ocean, tidal effects on the river current are noticeable. Check a tidal timetable before embarking to get an idea of good times to paddle. If the wind or tides makes paddling impracticable, it is possible to reach Ruta X-12, a dirt road which follows the river and leads to Puerto Raúl Marín Balmaceda.
Notes for Travel to Puerto Chacabuco (Beginning of GPT29P): There are two options for transportation to Puerto Chacabuco:
Book your tickets on the ferry from Puerto R.M. Balmaceda to Puerto Chacabuco in advance here: http://www.navieraustral.cl/itinerarios-y-tarifas
The ferry is a popular travel option and only runs a couple days during the week. It is also possible to purchase tickets at the local grocery store, but be prepared to wait for several days if you decide to do this.
2. Three Buses and a Taxi
There is also an option to take a series of shuttles to Puerto Chacabuco. This is a cheaper but certainly less enjoyable and more time consuming option. The series of shuttles required to get from Puerto R.M. Balmaceda to Puerto Chacabuco are as follows:
a. There is a van that runs from Puerto R.M. Balmaceda to La Junta twice a day which leaves from the ferry port (trip time ~3 hours). The tourist information station in Puerto R.M. Balmaceda can give you times and details about tickets.
b. From La Junta, there's a bus to Coyhaique that usually only runs once a day (trip time ~5 hours). Tickets may be bought before hand at the local depot (ask the tourist information center for directions). One company that offers transportation by bus from La Junta to Coyhaique is Aguilas Patagónicas. See their website here: http://www.aguilaspatagonicas.cl.
c. From Coyhaique, catch one of the many buses traveling to Puerto Aysen.
d. The final step is to hire a taxi (about 500 CLP) to Puerto Chacabuco. There is a pickup/dropoff location along highway 240 just outside of the Unimart.
Town: Puerto Raúl Marín (R.M.) Balmaceda
Puerto R.M. Balmaceda has a few lodging options and lots of open ground for camping. There are a couple of expensive markets that could meet resupply needs, but Coyhaique or Puerto Aysen definitely have better options.